It has been described as a laid-back, tree-fringed town with a community that prides itself on making a living out of organic farming and healthy lifestyles.
So when residents around Bellingen in the state’s north were told that the nearby Gladstone State forest was about to be aerially sprayed by the Forestry Corporation with a cocktail of chemical weed killers they reacted angrily and immediately mounted a campaign to stop it.
“We set up camps in the forest, on the helipad site and the entrance to the forest to run around-the-clock on-ground vigilance at all times,” said resident and No Spray No Way campaigner Susan Weil.
“Forestry Corporation was not allowed to conduct any aerial spraying while there werecommunity members in the forest and we took full advantage of this protocol,” Ms Weil told Fairfax Media.Trouble started with the announcement from the Forestry Corporation that an area that had become overrun with weeds after it was logged for hardwood was going to be sprayed from a helicopter to kill the weeds before a new plantation of timber was planted. Forestry Corporation said it was planning to mix four chemcials and herbicides: Glyphosate, Metsulfurin Methyl, Fluroxypyr and Simazine and the adjuvants Liaise and Pulse, to do the job.Ms Weil said the community wasconcerned the chemicals, all of which were on a priority spray drift list for review by the federal government’s Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, would drift onto their properties and runoff into water system around the area, affecting residents, water quality, animals, including koalas and the environment.“We are not going to wear it,” she said.Greens MP David Shoebridge has slammed the aerial spraying as the “cheapest and nastiest” option for weed control.
Mr Shoebridge said it was made worse by Forestry Corporation’s “mass industrial logging programme, which leaves clear ground open for weeds to flourish”.
“Instead of implementing evidence based long-term weed management practice, we have seen Forestry Corporation opting for the aerial spraying of a chemical cocktail which will drift into houses, waterways and pollute the precious habitat,” he said.
Jo Immig, the co-ordinator of the National Toxics Network, said there had been no studies done on the effects of mixing the four chemicals together.
Ms Immig also said the chemical Simazine is known to linger in the environment, is a ground-water pollutant and is banned in Europe.
“The biggest problem is that the Bellingen area has a high rainfall and lots of waterways where the chemical pesticides could run into. Run-off is the key thing. It is crazy to do this, both socially and environmentally.”
Chemical expert Dr Barry Noller from the Centre for Mine Land Rehabilitation at the University of Queensland said the chemicals all have relatively low toxicity to humans when taken individually.
“However mixtures of a range of compounds like these may give a higher response than the individual compounds. Although there is no advice given for the toxicity of such a mixture, it is unlikely to shown anything but minor toxicity to people,” he said.
He said that spray drift might also enter creeks but would break down quickly.
A spokeswoman for Forestry Corporation said the spraying was on hold for the moment while they consult the community about other options.